This is it: 400 miles to a Sprint Cup championship

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Every time a NASCAR season begins in earnest with those “Preseason Thunder” test sessions at Daytona, the end of the line in November – the Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami – seems so far away.

But here we are again, ready to see the coronation of another Sprint Cup champion while simultaneously wondering how in the blue heck time went by so fast.

Today is the day. Only 400 miles separate either Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth or Kevin Harvick from the Cup, and while Johnson has the distinct advantage of being on top of the championship by 28 points going into today’s race, so much can happen as it plays out. Nothing’s impossible.

Improbable? Maybe. Unlikely? Perhaps. But never impossible.

For Johnson, today could be a day for more history, a day to further bolster his legacy as one of the all-time legends of the sport. He’s never won at Homestead, but when he’s hit the 1.5-mile oval with the championship lead, he’s always been able to take care of business. Four times he’s walked in as the leader, and four times he’s walked out as the champion.

One of these days, we’ll look back on his and Hendrick Motorsports’ run of dominance and be glad that we were there to see something that memorable.

Then there’s Kenseth, whose career has come back to life in a big way with Joe Gibbs Racing this year. Win or lose today, he and the No. 20 bunch can be very proud of their accomplishments in 2013.

But should Johnson come undone somehow, he could be in position to deliver one of the most shocking upsets in NASCAR history and earn his second Cup title (and his first in the current Chase format that many believed he helped create after claiming his first title in 2003).

Finally, there’s Harvick, who today closes out a memorable run at Richard Childress Racing that saw him and the team go through several tough times. 13 years after taking up the incredible challenge of replacing the late Dale Earnhardt, Harvick has become part of NASCAR’s nucleus.

He and his No. 29 team have kept things light in regards to the championship, having mentioned that their only chance to beat Johnson is to lock him in a port-a-potty. But as long as they’re still in it, they’ll give it their best shot. It’s what they demand of themselves, every week.

What will we see today? Five-Time getting the Six-Pack? Kenseth claiming his inaugural “Chase era” crown? Or Harvick giving RCR a title on his way out the door? Regardless of the outcome, we’ll bear witness to something pretty special.

In the dead of winter, you never think about this day in November. And then, suddenly, as if only a few moments had passed instead of ten months, the day arrives.

And you just shake your head and smile.

Santino Ferrucci will drive No. 14 for AJ Foyt Racing full time in 2023 IndyCar season

Santino Ferrucci AJ Foyt
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Santino Ferrucci will return to full-time racing in the NTT IndyCar Series next season, joining AJ Foyt Racing.

Ferrucci had made eight IndyCar starts with three teams since his last full-time season in 2020 while also racing part time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series this year.

He will drive the storied No. 14 Dallara-Chevrolet for four-time Indy 500 winner A.J. Foyt’s team, which will field the car from its Waller, Texas headquarters.

“It’s incredibly exciting to be back in the INDYCAR Series full time,” Ferrucci said in a team release. “Being a part-time driver over the last two years has been hard for me, personally. I’m a race car driver, and I want to compete. Working with different teams has been exciting, and I’m proud that no matter which car I’ve raced, I’ve always shown speed and consistency. I couldn’t be more excited to join AJ Foyt Racing in the 14 Chevy. I can’t wait to make the best of it.”

Ferrucci, 24, had finished a career-best fourth in IndyCar four times, including the 104th Indy 500 in 2020. He was the 2019 Indy 500 rookie of the year with a sixth.

In nine Xfinity starts since 2021, Ferrucci has a career-best finish of 13th at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“I am thrilled to welcome Santino to the team,” Larry Foyt said in a release. “He’s shown a knack for getting toward the front of the field, and I think he is a racer who moves forward on race day. A.J. sees the fire in him and has enjoyed their meetings together. I think Santino’s experience will help his rookie teammate as well, so he is a great addition to our roster.”

Ferrucci will be teamed at AJ Foyt Racing with Benjamin Pedersen, who finished fifth in the 2022 Indy Lights standings. The team has yet to specify the number for Pedersen’s entry, which will be fielded out of its Indianapolis race shop.

Foyt’s two full-time drivers last season were Dalton Kellett and Kyle Kirkwood, who is moving to Andretti Autosport.